STAY TUNED for photojournalist Matt Schacht's eye-opening update on a controversial 2011 Columbia city ordinance that regulates people who care for feral cats:  wild versions of the domesticated variety, birthed by stray mothers absent human contact.  

Here's a first look. 

A HUMANE CHOICE:  Regulations force feral cat caretakers to choose life over law
The unintended consequence of a well-intentioned ordinance

By Matthew Schacht

COLUMBIA, Mo 4/10/14 (Preview) -- On a dirt path made solid from foot travel, behind a stucco strip mall in the southern part of town, lies paraphernalia of criminal activity.  The perpetrators are absent, but they've left evidence of their transgression in the weeds and on the rocky banks of an adjacent creek.

We're not talking about drug use or prostitution. 

The crime is feeding feral cats. 

The perps: volunteers who also perform an important social service at their own expense: spaying and neutering the animals so they no longer reproduce.  

Anyone who provides "food, water, or sustenance" to feral cats within Columbia city limits must have a license.   Without it, feral cat caretakers face fines of not more than $500 and incarceration not longer than 6 months.

The ordinance also requires caretakers to microchip, catch, and test the cats annually for several diseases, at considerable cost to themselves. 

The feral cat regulations have created dilemmas on several fronts.    "I think the law was originally designed to stop people from feeding wild cats," says Chris Leech, a veterinarian who once conducted a low-cost spay and neuter clinic near Rock Bridge High School.  "But it's had a bigger effect."

A HUMANE CHOICE:  Our Spring series, Coming Soon!


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